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Closing the gap progress mixed: PM

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott will demand a ramp-up of indigenous employment rates and school attendance as he hands down a mixed report card on Australia’s efforts to close the gap.

Before that the prime minister addressed a breakfast in Parliament House to mark the annual event, saying it was an honour to follow Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

“I would be incredibly disappointed if in three or four years we haven’t continued to do even more and even better in this field,” Mr Abbott said.

“But for this special day the sometimes yawning gap … could easily be glossed over or neglected.”

Mr Abbott will “not be taking credit or casting blame” as he delivers his first Closing the Gap address in the lower house on Wednesday.

“Our challenge is to turn good intentions into better outcomes.”

Mr Abbott will tell parliament about his government’s efforts to improve school attendance and employment rates, create safer communities and his commitment to the constitutional recognition of indigenous people.

After then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the stolen generations, federal, state and territory governments agreed on six ambitious targets to tackle indigenous disadvantage.

This year’s report shows no progress has been made against the target to halve the employment gap within a decade.

Efforts to improve literacy and numeracy rates of indigenous school children are lagging behind.

There was a small improvement in indigenous life expectancy, where there’s a gap of 11.5 years between indigenous and non-indigenous men and 9.7 years between women.

The report says the process will need to be accelerated to meet the 2031 deadline.

But there’s some good news.

The targets to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade and the target to improve year 12 attainment rates are on track.

The federal government is waiting for new data on preschool enrolment and attendance rates in order to assess progress.

The Closing the Gap campaign will release a shadow report on Wednesday, which urges the Abbott government to prioritise health.

Campaign co-chairman and indigenous leader Mick Gooda said there had been progress on cutting indigenous smoking rates and improving child and maternal health.

“We need to stay on track … and build on these successes,” Mr Gooda said.

The Abbott government is yet to renew a national partnership deal with states and territory governments that distributes money to indigenous health programs.

It also has not committed to implement the national indigenous health plan.

Mr Abbott did not appoint a specific indigenous health minister to his ministry.

The campaign also wants a new target set to reduce the high levels of Aboriginal people in jail.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will use his Closing the Gap speech to parliament to plead for a continuation of the good work Labor started in government.

In a direct plea to Tony Abbott, Mr Shorten beseeches the prime minister not to start again “just because you can”.

“Please don’t go back to a blank piece of paper, just to enhance your claim to authorship.”

Mr Shorten will urge the prime minister not to turn his back on learned consultations, policy work, testing and lessons in the name of ideological purity.
“Please repay the trust and forgiveness that Aboriginal communities have shown by honouring the commitments we made.”

Mr Shorten also will highlight the impact alcohol abuse was having on indigenous communities, comparing it with recent “coward’s punch” incidents in Sydney.

It was not a problem confined to late nights in King’s Cross, he said.

“In remote communities across Australia, grog plays a sinister part in domestic violence and sexual abuse.”